LOS ANGELES -- Stanford Tara VanDerveer has seen it all, from the highest of the game's highs to some of its all-too-real lows, in the course of her 35-year coaching career. In many ways, the 2013-14 season has been a microcosm of the extremes of that career for the four-time National Coach of the Year, who achieved her 900th career win in November, clinched her 14th PAC-12 regular-season championship in February, but last week saw her Cardinal fall in the semis, failing to reach the title game of the PAC-12 Tournament title for the first time in the history of the event.
VanDerveer has been inducted into both the Naismith Memorial (2011) and the Women's (2002) Basketball Halls of Fame. Beyond her impressive record of success at the Farm, she is, perhaps more than any other single individual, responsible for having put the United States on the map in the sport internationally. VanDerveer temporarily stepped away from her duties at Stanford from 1995-1996 to rebuild the U.S. national team, which had finished third at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, guiding them to a 52-0 record in a year-long, globe-trotting program of preparations, and restoring them to the top of the podium with a gold-medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games and to a position of world dominance they have not relinquished since.
However, despite her standing as one of the most highly respected coaches in the game, and her refreshingly plain-spoken manner in mandatory post-game pressers, VanDerveer has never sought out the spotlight nor tolerated much more media access than her responsibilities demanded.
So it’s ironic that the basketball sage consented to be filmed before the season began. The finished product, a 30-minute documentary called Tara VanDerveer: Life in a Season, will air at 8 p.m. PDT (11 p.m. EDT), Monday, March 17, on the PAC-12 Networks.
The film provides an up-close-and-personal look at VanDerveer, now in her 28th year at Stanford, and how she works with student athletes. It’s a rare insight into a coach who is known for her stoic expression and relatively subdued, at times almost impassive, sideline demeanor.
“What we concentrated on was letting viewers see her coach,” said Jim Jorden, the producer of the piece. “We let her tell her own story.”
That narrative includes showing practices, voice access to VanDerveer during games, and special moments like the milestone win against Florida Gulf Coast at a Thanksgiving tournament in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, which placed VanDerveer in elite company when she became just the fifth coach in Division I women's basketball to win 900 games.
“Viewers will be able to see that she cares about all her players, but treats them differently,” Jorden said. “She really knows how to motivate them.”
Credit for the idea goes to the president of the PAC-12 Networks, Lydia Murphy-Stephans, who had considered VanDerveer as a documentary subject. After media day last October, Murphy-Stephans somehow convinced VanDerveer to grant access.
“I knew that soon she’d be getting win 900, and she is a champion herself,” Murphy-Stephans said. “In allowing us to mic her up, (the PAC-12 Network) cultivated a trusting relationship. We were not looking for ‘gotcha’ moments – we were looking to show her working with student athletes.”
The PAC-12 also gained the trust of Stanford, which granted the TV crews permission to accompany the team to the Mexico tournament and capture footage of VanDerveer’s historic win.
Murphy-Stephans thought it funny when VanDerveer told her she didn’t consider herself a competitive person, because of a childhood anecdote she also revealed.
“Tara told me that she and her family played Scrabble when she was younger, and if she lost, she’d go look up words in the dictionary to prepare for the next game,” Murphy-Stephans said. “This is the kind of coach she is – so methodical and so smart.”
Filming continued through last week's PAC-12 Tournament, where Stanford's loss in the semifinal, an event so firmly associated with the Cardinal's dominance that it has come to be known as "The Stanford Invitational," meant a little extra editing for Jorden.
“Them losing that game changed the ending of the film for us,” he said. “It’s a shame they lost, but in a way it made the final product more interesting.”
Murphy-Stephans said this project is unique.
“I think we’re the first to do a feature on Tara,” she said. “She is a champion herself.”